On Unattainability of Understanding

“It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits — like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding — inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.”

– Malcolm Muggeridge

The Global Village

Small numbers are easier to comprehend for our feeble brains than enormous ones. Consider, it is easier to comprehend how a society of a few dozen people would look like, than to review a society of billions.

With that in mind, if we pretend humanity consists of 100 individuals living in a single village, how would that village look like? In other words, what kind of world are we living in? Using global data from 2009 and onwards, the following results emerge:

If the world were a village of 100 people,

  • (Age) There are 70 adults and 30 children.
  • (Air) There are 68 people who breathe clean air, the other 32 breathe polluted air.
  • (Computer) There are 7 people who own a computer and 93 who do not.
  • (Education) There is one person with a higher education, the other 99 never studied.
  • (Electricity) There are 76 people with access to electricity, the other 24 do without it.
  • (Energy) There are 20 people who consume 80% of all the energy, the other 80 consume the remaining 20%.
  • (Food) There is one person dying of starvation; 20 are undernourished; 50 do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry most of the time; 30 always have enough to eat; 15 are overweight.
  • (Gender) There are 52 women and 48 men.
  • (HIV) There are 99 people without HIV, one with.
  • (Language) There are 17 people who speak Chinese, 9 who speak English, 8 Hindi, 6 Russian, 6 Spanish and 4 who speak Arabic; the other 50 speak different languages.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • (Literacy) There are 86 people who are literate and 14 who are illiterate.
  • (Money) There are 6 people who own 59% of all the money; 74 people own 39%; and the remaining 20 people own a mere 2%.
  • (Nationality) There are 61 Asians, 13 Africans, 13 North/South Americans, 12 Europeans and 1 person from Oceania.
  • (Population) There are 2 births a year; one death.
  • (Race) There are 70 people who are not ‘white’, and 30 who are.[1]
  • (Religion) There are 33 Christians, 24 non-believers, 19 Muslims, 13 Hindus, 6 Buddhists and 5 people who believe there are spirits in all natures.
  • (Safety) There are 52 people who can speak and act according to their conscience; the other 48 – due to harassment, imprisonment, torture or death – cannot.
  • (Sexuality) There are 90 heterosexuals and 10 homosexuals.
  • (War) There are 80 people who do not live in fear of death by bombardment, armed attack, landmines, or of rape or kidnappings by armed groups; the other 20 do.
  • (Water) There are 83 people with access to clean water, the other 17 people have no clean water.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” – Jane Addams

[1] The authors would like to distance themselves from any racial bias. In doing so, we like to stress that we do not recognise the term ‘race’ as a concept in any way. That is to say, we hold that all people are people: equally beautiful, complex, flawed, fragile and amazing.

We have deliberately published this statistic in a ‘Caucasian-centric’ manner (i.e. There are 70 people who are not ‘white’…) not to emphasise or lend support to some prejudiced preference or point of view, but rather to show that humanity is incredibly diverse – in fact, we suspect that humanity is more diverse than many ‘Caucasian westerners’ realise. And it is our conviction that it is important to be aware of the wonderful intricacies and diversities of our species.

Problems with Electoral Votes

In a democratic election, it is common for the people to choose their government. In the United States, the head of government is not chosen directly by the people, but by Electors who represent the nation’s fifty States and the District of Columbia – these Electors form the Electoral College and they in fact choose the President of the United States.

To put it simply, the American people decide who votes for the President they want.

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken

To become President of the United States, a candidate needs to win the absolute majority of the Electoral Votes from the Electoral College. In order to win Electoral Votes, one needs to obtain to majority of the votes in a State.

Each U.S. State is worth Electoral Votes. The number of Votes a State is worth is determined by the population of the State. The more populous a State, the higher its number of Electoral Votes. These values are adjusted every decade.

U.S. Presidential Elections are ruled by a system called first past the post. This means that whichever candidate receives the most votes in a certain State is declared the winner in that particular State. The winner receives all the Electoral Votes of the State (except for Nebraska and Maine, which allow Electoral Votes to be divided between different candidates).

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” – Isaac Asimov

Now, from a democratic viewpoint, this system is not ideal for a number of reasons, namely:

  • The use of Electoral Votes is not as democratic as it could be; the President of the United States is chosen indirectly. Whenever the word ‘indirectly’ has to be used in reference to an aspect of an election, it does not engender ‘more democracy’. In other words, the Electoral Vote system (indirect election) discards the Popular Vote (direct election). Hypothetically, a candidate could become President by winning just the eleven biggest States.
  • Because the Popular Vote counts for nothing as a whole, and because of discrepancies in the way Electoral Votes are assigned to States, it is possible for a candidate to win more Electoral Votes than his opponent and still lose the Popular Vote. To put it simply, one can become President of the United States by getting fewer votes from the American people than your opponent. – R.B. Hayes (1876), B. Harrison (1888) and G.W. Bush (2000) became President even though they and their party did not win a majority of the Popular Vote (in 1824, J.Q. Adams did not personally win a majority of the Popular Vote even though his party did).
  • In 157 instances, members of the Electoral College have cast their Electoral Votes in a different manner than the majority of the people in their respective States wanted them to. Electors who essentially vote against the wishes of their State are called Faithless Electors.
  • The Electoral Votes cause the votes in more populous States to be of less significance. To illustrate that, consider the following: in Wyoming, less than 200,000 votes make up one Electoral Vote; in Texas, over 700,000 votes are needed for the same Electoral Vote.
  • However, the current system does not make the votes in small States more significant either. Because votes are counted per State, only those States which can realistically be won by more than one candidate are relevant to the competing parties. These States, which do not have a predictable voting trend, are called Swing States. In a typical U.S. Presidential Election, only the Swing States which carry a large number of Electoral Votes are important to the candidates and the media. Because of this, the Americans in 80% of U.S. States receive no attention whatever.
  • Finally, participation suffers under the current system. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, in a first past the post system small parties are irrelevant since they can never realistically win the majority of the votes in an entire State. Instead, the voter is usually left with two or three flavours. Secondly, the system more often than not discourages participation. Around 80% of U.S. States usually have quite a predictable voting trend, and since only the winning party receives an electoral reward, other voters may be more inclined to abstain from participating in an election. In other words, the system causes political apathy.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gross National Happiness

The Gross National Happiness or GNH is a holistic and sustainable approach to development which balances between material and non-material values with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness.

“A sound economy is not an end to itself, but should serve a purpose, to improve society.” – Hans Messinger

Flag of Bhutan

Flag of Bhutan

The GNH is the standard index of Bhutan.

GNH is a unique approach to national and global development. The objective of GNH is to achieve a balanced development in all facets of life which is essential to our happiness.

The goal of GNH is happiness. The GNH was designed in an attempt to define an indicator and concept that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of gross domestic product (GDP).

The concept of Gross National Happiness consists of four pillars: Fair socio-economic development (better education and health), conservation and promotion of a vibrant culture, environmental protection and good governance.

“The overwhelming majority of our people seek a greater opportunity for humanity to prosper and find happiness. They recognise that human welfare has not increased and does not increase through mere materialism and luxury, but that it does progress through integrity, unselfishness, responsibility and justice …” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

The four pillars are further elaborated in nine domains: psychological well-being, living standard, health, culture, education, community vitality, good governance, balanced time use and ecological integration.

In accordance with these nine domains, Bhutan has developed 38 sub-indexes, 72 indicators and 151 variables that are used to define and analyse the happiness of the Bhutanese people.